Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant thinks that teammate Dwight Howard will ultimately decide to stay with the Lakers when his final free-agency decision is made. But if Bryant is wrong and Howard decides to move on, will the franchise or Howard be worse for wear?
In the short run, the Lakers will certainly feel the pain if Howard does bolt for greener pastures. But suggesting that one of the most successful teams in NBA history needs Howard more than Howard needs them might be disrespectful to that legacy.
If the Lakers are bigger than Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Bryant, in what universe would Howard be greater than that sum?
In what universe is Howard even equal?
When healthy, Howard is the greatest center in the NBA today, but the word "great" takes on a whole new meaning when wearing a purple and gold uniform and manning the middle for the Lakers.
Kareem, Wilt and Shaquille O'Neal were all great centers before they played for the Lakers, but their legends were crafted in Los Angeles.
The only member of the above trio who managed to extend their legacy after their Lakers career was over is O'Neal. Even though he did manage to win another championship with Miami as Dwyane Wade's sidekick, Shaq's career as a dominant center ended when he left Hollywood.
Howard may find similar success supporting James Harden in Houston, Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas or whomever he might play with in Atlanta, but, ironically, the Lakers are the only team in the NBA where Howard can craft his own legacy because of the players who came before him.
Lakers fans expect greatness from their centers, and while Howard doesn't measure up to Kareem, Wilt and Shaq in terms of skill or aura, he would still receive a pass from most fans because he plays center for the Lakers.
Would Howard be afforded that same respect playing in the footsteps of the only center to ever lead Houston to consecutive titles?
1994-95 is the last time the Rockets tasted the fruits of an NBA title, and Houston fans are undoubtedly hungry for more. But what happens when the realization dawns that Howard can't lead them there?
Howard may not be able to lead the Lakers to a title either, but the difference is Los Angeles has never had an issue attracting the game's top free agents to Hollywood.
Could that be the reason the Lakers have played in seven NBA Finals series since Houston last won one?
If Howard leaves, the Lakers may struggle next season. They will struggle even more if Bryant is unable to return from his Achilles injury in time for the 2013-14 season opener.
As the saying goes, it's always darkest just before the dawn. If this is true, the summer of 2014 is flooded with golden sunshine for the Lakers—regardless of what Howard decides.
Consider the only player who would presumably be under contract at that time is point guard Steve Nash. Even if the Lakers do keep Pau Gasol and Bryant beyond their current contracts, it will be at a greatly discounted rate.
So with all that cash to spend and several prominent free agents set to hit the market at the same time, the Lakers' period of mediocrity looks to be much shorter than their last venture into that territory between the 2005-07 seasons.
However, can Howard craft a greater legacy with another team than he could with the Lakers?
That theory didn't serve Howard very well when he was option numero uno in Orlando. His path to a title was much easier in 2010 than it will be at any other time going forward.
Howard and Harden would make a great tandem in Houston, and there is plenty of other talent to surround them. However, would that make them better than Oklahoma City, Memphis, the Clippers or even Golden State?
Of course, you could argue that the Lakers are not better than any of those teams with or without Howard, but history suggests that dynamic will change dramatically in the near future.
In fact, the pressure may be even greater for Howard to win in another city, because he already burned bridges during his messy departure from Orlando. He would probably burn a few more on his way out of Los Angeles.
Howard has already used up his allotment of do-overs, and eventually he will need to add a ring or two to go along with all that talent and bravado if he hopes to craft a legacy that anyone takes seriously.
And what city takes their championship legacies more seriously than Los Angeles?